Wagatha Christie

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Vardy v Rooney
CourtHigh Court of Justice
Started10 May 2022
Decided29 July 2022
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingMrs Justice Steyn

Wagatha Christie is a popular name given to a dispute between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, which culminated in a 2022 libel case in the English High Court, Vardy v Rooney.

In 2019, Rooney announced that the Twitter account that was leaking the posts from her private Instagram account to the British newspaper The Sun was "Rebekah Vardy's account". In 2020, Vardy sued Rooney for libel, and the case came to trial in London in May 2022. On 29 July 2022, the court dismissed Vardy's claim on the basis that Rooney's statements were substantially true. Vardy was ordered to pay a substantial proportion of Rooney's legal expenses, which, together with her own legal costs, have been estimated to total £3 million.

The dispute and trial attracted significant media attention, in part because Vardy and Rooney are "WAGs", an acronym applied by the British media to the wives and girlfriends of prominent British footballers. The case acquired its popular name, a portmanteau of WAG and the name of the whodunnit fiction writer Agatha Christie, because of the steps taken by Rooney to investigate the source of the leaks.

Dispute[edit]

In 2019, Coleen Rooney, the wife of the footballer Wayne Rooney, suspected that posts from her private Instagram account were being leaked to The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper that regularly publishes celebrity stories.[1] To determine the source of the stories, Rooney posted fabricated stories and changed the settings of her Instagram so that Rebekah Vardy (the wife of footballer Jamie Vardy), whom she suspected to be the source of the leaks, was the only one who could view them.[1] The Sun published these stories, which included claims that the basement of Rooney's house had flooded, that Rooney had visited Mexico to "make a baby girl", and that Rooney had planned to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.[2][3]

In late 2019, Rooney posted on Twitter that Vardy's Instagram account had leaked the stories to the press. Rooney's tweet went viral and was dubbed "Wagatha Christie", a portmanteau of the term "WAG" – an acronym for the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes – and the name of Agatha Christie, a well-known writer of whodunit crime fiction. The term was originally coined on Twitter by writer and comedian Dan Atkinson.[4][5] Vardy responded to Rooney on Twitter, denying the claims and implying her Instagram account had been hacked.[6]

Litigation[edit]

Proceedings and trial[edit]

Vardy in 2018

In June 2020, Vardy commenced action in the English High Court to sue Rooney for defamation.[7] Defamation and libel cases are often not brought to the High Court; lawyers often advise against taking such cases to court because the reputational loss for the complainant is often high.[8] At a preliminary High Court hearing on 19 November 2020, Mr. Justice Warby found Rooney had used defamatory words about Vardy. Neither Rooney nor Vardy were at the court.[9]

Vardy argued that the accusation over her Instagram account was false. Following the earlier ruling, it was Rooney's onus to prove Vardy was responsible for leaking stories to The Sun or to convince the judge that publication of the allegation was in the public interest.[10] Rooney testified that she offered several out-of-court settlements.[11]

The trial commenced on 10 May 2022.[5][12] During the proceedings, Rooney requested documents related to The Sun publisher News Group Newspapers and four The Sun journalists. The judge Mrs. Justice Steyn allowed Vardy to use written summaries from these journalists as part of the case.[13]

The judge also asked for the mobile phones of Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt to be searched. Watt said she had accidentally dropped her phone into the North Sea during a family holiday in Scotland.[14][15][16] Vardy's copy of the messages were said to have been lost during a failed backup when Vardy's technology expert "[forgot] the password which he used to encrypt the material".[17] Rooney's lawyer David Sherborne said these were attempts to conceal incriminating evidence.[18][19] Rooney's lawyers also cited the Armory v Delamirie case of 1722, which set a precedent stating that any deliberately missing evidence in a case should be assumed to be of the highest possible value, arguing that this also applies to electronic communications.[20]

Rooney alleged Vardy was the source of information for The Sun on Sunday's "Secret Wag" feature, an anonymous column that discussed the private lives of others.[21][22] Sherborne questioned Vardy about her history of leaking information to the tabloid press, quoting from a 2004 interview in which Vardy detailed a sexual encounter with singer Peter Andre.[23][24] Vardy apologised, saying her former husband had forced her to participate in the interview[25] and that her words had been misrepresented.[26] The trial ended on 19 May 2022.[27]

Judgment[edit]

On 29 July, Mrs. Justice Steyn ruled in favour of Rooney. Steyn said that Vardy had regularly passed information about Rooney to the press, was critical of missing evidence from Vardy and called her evidence "manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, evasive or implausible" on "many occasions".[1] Steyn also said The Sun on Sunday's "Secret Wag" column "is highly likely ... [to have been] a journalistic construct rather than a person", and that "the evidence connecting Ms Vardy to this column is thin".[28][29]

Vardy faced estimated legal costs of approximately £3 million.[30] At a subsequent hearing, Mrs. Justice Steyn ordered Vardy to pay 90% of Rooney's costs, with the first installment assessed at £800,000, to be paid by mid-November 2022.[31] The full amount was expected to be approximately £1,500,000.[32] Vardy's legal costs were estimated to be similar, meaning the libel case may have cost her more than £3 million in total.[31]

Post-trial reaction[edit]

From Vardy and Rooney[edit]

After the trial, Vardy said that she was "extremely sad and disappointed at the decision" and that she had been the subject of "vile abuse" since the trial began.[33] She told Kate McCann of TalkTV that the media coverage of the case had been sexist and misogynistic,[34] and she was later said to be experiencing panic attacks and post-traumatic stress as a result of the trial.[35] In 2023 it was reported that Vardy had trademarked the term Wagatha Christie.[36]

In a press statement after the trial, Rooney said that she was pleased but did not believe the case should have gone to court when the money could have been better spent elsewhere.[37] Rooney subsequently described her experience of the litigation as "horrible". She acknowledged that Vardy was "obviously going through it" as a result of the case, but said she could not understand why Vardy had put herself in that position. She has also said she would never forgive Vardy.[38]

Media commentary, coverage and dramatisations[edit]

The trial received international media coverage.[28] Helen Lewis, a writer for the American magazine The Atlantic, called the case "the most ill-advised defamation case" since Oscar Wilde's dispute with the Marquess of Queensberry. Lewis wrote that the trial represented "a clash between different ideas of celebrity", with Rooney guarding her privacy and Vardy "an avatar of a made-for-Instagram world, in which you are a fool if you do not monetise your personal life".[39] The Guardian commented that the judgment had left Vardy's reputation "in tatters".[40]

The trial has been dramatised in stage and television adaptations. Channel 4 broadcast its dramatisation, Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama, in December 2022.[41] Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial, a verbatim dramatisation of the trial, was staged at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End between November 2022 and January 2023. Lucy May Barker and Laura Dos Santos played Vardy and Rooney.[42] A two-part TV documentary, Vardy vs Rooney: The Wagatha Trial, was aired in November 2022 on Discovery+.[43]

In October 2023, Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story, a drama documentary about the story and court case telling Rooney's side of the story, was released on Disney+.[44]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Stoppard, Lou; Rosman, Katherine (29 July 2022). "'Wagatha Christie' Trial, a British Spectacle, Ends: Judge Finds No Libel". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 April 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  2. ^ Gardner, Bill; Davies, Gareth (9 October 2019). "Coleen Rooney claims she caught fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy giving fake stories to tabloids". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 4 June 2023. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
  3. ^ Bonesteel, Matt (9 October 2019). "Coleen Rooney plays Instagram detective, publicly accuses another player's wife of leaking to tabloids". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 7 December 2019. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
  4. ^ Atkinson, Dan (15 May 2022). "Yes, I'm the jester who coined 'Wagatha Christie' – my gift to headline writers everywhere". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 April 2023. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  5. ^ a b Paterson, Colin (10 May 2022). "Wagatha Christie case: What to know as the trial starts". BBC News. Archived from the original on 10 May 2022.
  6. ^ Vardy, Rebekah [@RebekahVardy] (9 October 2019). "@ColeenRoo ..." (Tweet). Retrieved 4 December 2020 – via Twitter.
  7. ^ Rebekah Vardy sues Coleen Rooney in High Court as she launches £1m lawsuit Daily Mirror 23 June 2020
  8. ^ Kwai, Isabella (10 May 2022). "Trial Over 'Wagatha Christie' Feud Begins in U.K." The New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 April 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022. Cases of libel in the High Court are rare, said Athalie Matthews, a lawyer for Farrer & Co. who specializes in defamation, adding that lawyers often advise against it. "Not only is the financial cost of taking a case to court huge, but the reputational cost can also be enormous, whether the claimant wins or loses."
  9. ^ "High Court rules in favour of Rebekah Vardy in libel preliminary issue trial". Matrix Law. Archived from the original on 17 April 2023. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  10. ^ Wagatha Christie: Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney libel trial begins, The Guardian 19 May 2022.
  11. ^ Rodger, James (3 May 2022). "Coleen Rooney offered to settle with Rebekah Vardy three times". BirminghamLive. Archived from the original on 31 January 2024. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  12. ^ Rebekah Vardy vs Coleen Rooney: Wagatha Christie case set to begin in high court. Sky News, 10 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Coleen Rooney accused of 'fishing expedition' from Sun in libel defence". Press Gazette. PA Media. 21 April 2022. Archived from the original on 29 July 2022. Retrieved 2 August 2022.
  14. ^ Giordano, Chiara (8 February 2022). "Rebekah Vardy's agent's phone 'fell in sea' after request for evidence". The Independent. Archived from the original on 13 February 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  15. ^ Janes, William (12 May 2022). "Rebekah Vardy agent's phone is 'in Davy Jones' locker', court hears". Belfast Telegraph. PA Media. Archived from the original on 31 July 2022. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  16. ^ Waterson, Jim (19 May 2022). "Rebekah Vardy's agent dropped phone in sea to hide evidence, trial hears". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 June 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  17. ^ Waterson, Jim (13 April 2022). "Rebekah Vardy's IT expert 'loses password' to 'Wagatha Christie' WhatsApp messages". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 April 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  18. ^ Wood, Poppy (10 May 2022). "Coleen Rooney accuses Rebekah Vardy of 'deliberately destroying evidence' in Wagatha case". i. Archived from the original on 4 June 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  19. ^ Kwai, Isabella (19 May 2022). "'Wagatha Christie' Case Offers a Riveting Peek Into Celebrity Culture". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 6 June 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  20. ^ Waterson, Jim (19 May 2022). "Rebekah Vardy subjected to ridicule on a massive scale, libel trial told". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 June 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022. The 1722 legal ruling set a precedent that if the court can tell that evidence is missing, then the assumption should be that what is missing is of the highest possible value that would fit. Rooney's lawyers argue this approach applies just as much in a case of missing WhatsApp messages sent by a footballer's wife as it does in a case involving a missing gem in a piece of 18th-century jewellery.
  21. ^ Shirbon, Estelle (16 March 2021). "England footballers' wives up the ante in 'WAGatha Christie' court battle". Reuters. Archived from the original on 31 July 2022. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  22. ^ Brown, David (18 June 2021). "Vardy's wife's the Secret Wag, claims Coleen Rooney". The Times. Archived from the original on 1 August 2022. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  23. ^ Harrison, Ellie (11 May 2022). "People are defending Peter Andre after Rebekah Vardy's 'chipolata' penis comment". The Independent. Archived from the original on 13 February 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  24. ^ Waterson, Jim (10 May 2022). "'Wagatha Christie': Vardy 'deeply regrets' intimate Peter Andre remarks". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 3 June 2023. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  25. ^ Baynes, Megan (12 May 2022). "Peter Andre speaks out after Rebekah Vardy's 'chipolata' jibe, says 'I'm the butt of all jokes'". Sky News. Archived from the original on 31 March 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2022. She did not quite say in court that the story was "made up", but rather said she was "forced into a situation by my ex-husband to do this [interview about Andre]."
  26. ^ Bancroft, Holly; Tidman, Zoe (13 May 2022). "'One of my biggest regrets' – Vardy apologised to Peter Andre for chipolata claim". The Independent. Archived from the original on 30 July 2022. Retrieved 30 July 2022. Ms Vardy ... said she regrets the interview and making those comments. She also alleged it included "a lot of things in there that didn't come out of my mouth, that were misrepresented."
  27. ^ Glynn, Paul (19 May 2022). "Vardy v Rooney: 10 things we learned at the Wagatha Christie libel trial". BBC News. Archived from the original on 3 May 2023. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  28. ^ a b Brown, David (29 July 2022). "Wagatha Christie verdict: Rebekah Vardy loses libel case against Coleen Rooney". The Times. Archived from the original on 10 June 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2022. Their two-week trial in London in May received international media coverage. ... Rooney accused Vardy of being a significant contributor to The Secret Wag column published by The Sun on Sunday in 2019. The judge said the short-lived column seemed more 'a journalistic construct' and the evidence linking it to Vardy was 'thin'.
  29. ^ Steyn, Karen (29 July 2022). "Approved Judgment" (PDF). judiciary.uk. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 July 2022. Retrieved 31 July 2022. First, it is highly likely that 'the Secret Wag' was a journalistic construct rather than a person. That being so, it is unsurprising, and provides no support for the allegation, that there are similarities between the attributes ascribed to the 'the Secret Wag' in the column and Ms Vardy. Secondly, the evidence connecting Ms Vardy to this column is thin. There is an email from the News Editor of the MailOnline in which he is asked for 'absolute confirmation that the Secret Wag is Rebekah' and responds 'Yeh, she is'. The author of the email has not given evidence. He did not work for the newspaper in which 'the Secret Wag' column was published, and his email discloses no basis for his assertion.
  30. ^ Fairlie, Martha (29 July 2022). "Rebekah Vardy loses 'Wagatha Christie' libel battle against Coleen Rooney". ITV News. Archived from the original on 29 July 2022. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  31. ^ a b "'Wagatha Christie' libel trial: Vardy ordered to pay Rooney's £1.5m legal fees". The Guardian. 4 October 2022. Archived from the original on 4 October 2022. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  32. ^ Wood, Poppy (4 October 2022). "Rebekah Vardy ordered to pay £1.5m Wagatha legal bill as judge rebukes over 'deleted evidence'". iNews. Archived from the original on 4 October 2022. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  33. ^ Lawless, Jill (29 July 2022). "Coleen Rooney victorious in 'Wagatha Christie' court battle". AP News. Archived from the original on 1 August 2022. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
  34. ^ "Rebekah Vardy says she feels sexism was at play in 'Wagatha Christie' coverage". The Independent. 4 August 2022. Archived from the original on 9 August 2022. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  35. ^ Bedigan, Mike (3 August 2022). "Vardy hospitalised twice and 'suffering from PTSD' over Wagatha Christie case". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 10 August 2022. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  36. ^ "Rebekah Vardy trademarks the phrase Wagatha Christie". BBC News. 19 April 2023. Archived from the original on 19 April 2023. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  37. ^ Singh, Anita (29 July 2022). "Wagatha Christie verdict: Rebekah Vardy loses case against Coleen Rooney". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 29 July 2022. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  38. ^ Jones, Harrison (17 August 2023). "Wagatha case: Coleen Rooney won't forgive Rebekah Vardy". BBC News. Archived from the original on 17 August 2023. Retrieved 17 August 2023.
  39. ^ Lewis, Helen (27 May 2022). "The Most Ill-Advised Libel Trial Since Oscar Wilde's". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 30 January 2023. Retrieved 2 June 2022.
  40. ^ Waterson, Jim; Davies, Caroline (29 July 2022). "Rebekah Vardy loses 'Wagatha Christie' libel case against Coleen Rooney". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 July 2022. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  41. ^ Muir, Ellie (21 December 2022). "Vardy v Rooney: How truthful is Channel 4's new courtroom drama?". The Independent. Archived from the original on 12 March 2023. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  42. ^ Akbar, Arifa (23 November 2022). "Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial review – courtroom panto". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 March 2023. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  43. ^ "Vardy Vs. Rooney: The Wagatha Trial on Discovery+ Review: Stream It Or Skip It?". Archived from the original on 19 April 2023. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  44. ^ Gregory, Elizabeth (13 October 2023). "First trailer revealed for Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story Disney+ documentary". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 19 October 2023. Retrieved 29 October 2023.